Peters lauded for his genius, generosity

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Alan Peters, who was a celebrated furniture designer, master craftsman and teacher, died Oct. 11 in his hometown of Minehead in the British county of Somerset. To a generation, he was considered by many as Britain's foremost furniture maker.

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Peters, 76, was known worldwide for his simple, understated, yet clearly distinctive modern furniture designs and also for his tireless efforts as a teacher, writer and assessor. His 1984 book "Cabinetmaking: The Professional Approach" is considered a classic reference book.

Peters began an apprenticeship with Edward Barnsley in 1949 and became one of the few direct links with the Arts and Crafts Movement pioneered by William Morris. He received numerous awards through the years, including the Order of the British Empire in 1990 for his services to furniture design.

Jeremy Broun, a British furniture designer, maker and author, has been working on a DVD and book about the life of his friend and colleague, titled "Alan Peters: The Maker's Maker," which is scheduled for release Dec 1.

"It is rare that someone who is a very precise master of technique can also have the gift of fluid artistic expression," Broun told Woodshop News. "Although Alan once said, 'If any of my work is considered art, it would be a bonus,' he clearly made an art of his craft balancing practical function with simple visual appeal. Unlike his main contemporary, John Makepeace, who has clearly bridged fine art boundaries, Alan Peters was always influenced by tradition, but eager to move tradition on and be open to fresh ideas."

In 2002, Peters received The Furniture Society's Award of Distinction at its annual conference in Madison, Wis., along with Jere Osgood and fellow countryman Makepeace. Michael Monroe, former curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, hosted the award ceremony and spoke about the three recipients.

"Their furniture plays in the active, not the passive parts in our lives," says Monroe. "These awards of distinction symbolize that these three makers have arrived at a perfect state of equilibrium. For theirs has been a careful and considered search for balance. Each is a master in balancing the three pleasures of furniture - the practical, the visual and the intellectual. Together they have achieved an equilibrium characterized by wit, knowledge, skill and, most of all, beauty."

"I've come a long way, and I'm very grateful for so many people who have helped me along the way," Peters said at the award luncheon. "John [Makepeace] will bare this out. When he and I started in the 1960s, we were lucky. Frankly, there weren't many of us around, so the competition was much less than it is now. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work at Parnham [school for craftsmen in wood] and have sessions with the students and to meet so many talented designers who were also teaching at the same time. If I've learned one thing in my life, it is that there is no one way to make furniture. I just do it my way."

"Alan was a man who modestly beavered away and was a very ordinary person who didn't let fame go to his head," says Broun. "The one thing he will be remembered for by furniture makers here is his integrity and generosity."

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.

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